In our last post we looked at developmental milestones and resisted rushing to conclusions about development that doesn’t fit our picture of “normal.” We also looked at developmental screening tools that help identify situations that might benefit from further assessment. Today, we look assessment and support for children with special needs.
Special needs are often categorized into 4 major types:
- Physical, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy
- Developmental, like down syndrome, autism, dyslexia, processing disorders
- Behavioral/Emotional, such as ADD, bi-polar disorder, oppositional defiance disorder
- Sensory Impaired, such as blind, visually impaired, deaf, limited hearing
For young children not yet in Kindergarten, after screening a preschool teacher or doctor can refer a family to Early Intervention for further assessment. But you don’t need to wait for a referral. Parents can also “self refer”. This means that you do not need a doctor or daycare provider to begin the assessment process. You can simply call them up and request an appointment.
They will schedule a time for you and your child to visit their offices. During the visit they will do an assessment and determine if your child would benefit from services.
If they determine that support services will benefit your child, Early Intervention will design an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP outlines the scope of services EI will provide – what they will do and how often they will do it. The IFSP can include transportation to and from the service provider, if needed. As your child gets older the IFSP will convert to an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that can carry them through public school to high school graduation.
An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a legally binding document that outlines the special education services your child will receive. The IEP classifies the disability, documents the accommodations needed, and outlines learning environment modifications that will be made by the school.
Each year an IEP meeting is held to assure that parents, teachers, and support specialists review the goals in the IEP, review how the student has progressed toward the goals, and update the goals and supports for the coming year. Parents have a strong voice in helping craft an individualized plan that assures their child receives the equal education that the law provides.
What exactly is a child with special needs entitled to? Federal law includes the following:
- IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
- Students with disabilities must be prepared for further education, employment and independent living
- If a child’s strengths, endurance, or stamina cannot keep up with school activities, they qualify for “other health impaired” special education status
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
- Prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities
- Requires schools to provide accommodations for disabled students
- Students with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity can qualify as disabled (including learning and social deficits)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Schools must meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems
- No Child Left Behind
- Schools must uphold achievement standards for children with disabilities
Parents of special needs children play an important role in the education process – as advocates, watchdog, and cheerleader.
If your child is newly diagnosed, getting involved in online forums and local support groups with other parents can help. There you can learn what others have found helpful and get input into situations you are experiencing. Support from others can provide encouragement and information as you work with schools and doctors to support your child’s growth and development.
When a child needs extra help, it is important to work together with the school and support specialists, but it is also important to note that parents have a voice in the IEP process. Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to go to IEP meetings prepared to ask for what you want. You know your child best and are their best advocate.